On October 29, 2018, OnePlus launched the OnePlus 6T — the latest smartphone from the Chinese manufacturer with a cult-level following. Mere minutes after the conclusion of the device launch event, OnePlus fans from around the world started to queue up at the Times Square T-Mobile store to be among the first to own the ninth OnePlus smartphone.
Since this would be the first time I would be able to buy a OnePlus device from a United States carrier, I wanted to attend. I’ve been a OnePlus fan since the very beginning, having bought the OnePlus One, OnePlus 3T, OnePlus 5, and now a OnePlus 6T. Attending the pop-up would enable me to be one of the first to get the phone as well as meet some of the other fans.
By the time I arrived at the T-Mobile store, there was already a queue four levels deep. I’m not the best at estimating numbers of people in a large group, but my guess would be there were over 400 people in line at the peak — clearly much more than was anticipated. Police routinely walked through the line to keep the sidewalks clear, and both T-Mobile and OnePlus staff were incessantly running around trying to keep things organized.
However, it wasn’t chaos; on the contrary, the whole event went incredibly smoothly, considering how many people were there and how unexpected the turnout was.
Since this is the only scheduled pop-up event in the United States for this device, many people who would have loved to have been there couldn’t attend. Hopefully, with the photos and descriptions below, you can at least get a sense for what it was like!
While my girlfriend and I were standing in the queue, we noticed there were two distinct groups of people working the event: OnePlus staff in gray sweatshirts and T-Mobile staff in magenta track jackets. We got to talking with one of the OnePlus staff members named Jason, who told us about how he got there.
Jason told us he was accepted into the brand new OnePlus Ambassadors program. According to Jason, OnePlus received hundreds of applications, but he was one of only 38 people accepted.
As part of the OnePlus Ambassadors program, OnePlus flew Jason to New York City from his native Georgia and gave him hotel accommodations for about a week. He was given early access to the OnePlus 6T and attended the device’s launch event. Now, he and his fellow Ambassadors were working the queue, showing people how to use the new phone and answering any questions they might have.
I talked with a few Ambassadors over the course of the evening, and all of them were incredibly happy to be there as part of the team. The whole program is a smart move by OnePlus, as it helps build the community, helps properly run their event, and gives back to the fans who made the company what it is today.
The people standing in front of the T-Mobile store weren’t just OnePlus fans and those working the event. There were a few notable faces in the crowd who were mingling and chatting with the attendees.
Most notably, Kyle Kiang — the head of the North America region for OnePlus as well as part of the company’s global marketing team — was outside with fans the entire evening. If you watched the live stream of the OnePlus 6T keynote, Kyle was the one who delivered the bulk of the talk.
Kyle shook hands, took selfies, and also showed people his own personal OnePlus 6T in order to emphasize certain features. He was very generous with his time and even answered some fan questions about the future of the company — however, most of his answers were vague and cryptic (which is to be expected).
Also in attendance was T-Mobile’s executive vice president of retail Jon Freier. He got a shoutout during the keynote from Pete Lau.
Mr. Freier seemed to be having a wonderful time hanging out with fans, and also seemed overjoyed at how large the turnout was.
While we were in the queue, OnePlus Ambassadors and T-Mobile employees were handing out free stuff incessantly. The bulk of attendees received a very nice canvas bag with both the OnePlus and T-Mobile logos, filled with promotional goodies. My bag had a OnePlus 6T sandstone case, a sketchbook, and a stack of OnePlus stickers. We also got T-Mobile wristbands, ponchos, luggage straps, and more.
There were also plenty of drinks to keep everyone happy — coffee, hot chocolate, Sprite, and water. At the end of the queue, there was also free ice cream.
I also found out that because I was one of the first 200 people to buy the device, I would receive the new OnePlus backpack for free at some point this year. Not too bad!
People who attended the keynote event got a bag filled with other OnePlus goodies, including the updated OnePlus Bullets Wireless headphones, some metal pins, and other related swag.
The OnePlus Shop
Once we got inside the T-Mobile store, it was barely recognizable as such — the entire shop was converted into a OnePlus experience. Television screens flashed OnePlus 6T promotional footage, the OnePlus logo was everywhere, a DJ played some sounds to keep the party vibe going, etc. The only reason we knew we were in a T-Mobile store was the number of employees in T-Mobile garb.
Every table in the shop — which would usually have iPhones, Samsung devices, etc. — had only OnePlus 6Ts. Fans could try the phone out, take pictures, use the fingerprint scanner, etc. While we were in the store, there was barely a moment where every device wasn’t in someone’s hands.
Eventually, a T-Mobile rep met with me and sold me the phone. The process was as simple as it usually is buying a phone from a carrier, which may not seem like a big deal but you have to remember — this has never happened before. Every single time I’ve purchased a OnePlus device I haven’t been able to do it this way, so it was a really cool feeling.
I asked the T-Mobile rep what he thought of the event, and he looked at me with an exasperated expression and said, “We had no idea it was going to be like this.” He told me the staff didn’t even know what phone they were going to sell until a few days before the event, and even then he said most of the staff members had never heard of the company before.
Whatever your opinions are on the OnePlus 6T or the company in general, you can’t deny how big of a deal this pop-up shop was. Currently, Chinese technology companies are scrambling to figure out how to break into the U.S. under intense scrutiny from the government, but OnePlus somehow did it. Executives at Huawei, Xiaomi, and even Oppo are probably wondering how OnePlus could achieve this so quickly with such small beginnings.
While my girlfriend and I were in the queue, several passersby asked us what the event was for. We explained it was for the launch of a new smartphone, and almost every single person asked if it was an iPhone. After we explained the situation to one of the passersby, he said to us, “I thought only Apple had launches this exciting.”
Those passersby learned there’s a new kid on the block in the smartphone industry. If OnePlus can keep this momentum, who knows how far it could go.